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Joshua Reynolds was born in July 1723, in the city of Plympton, English county of Devon. He was the third son of a reverend, among his siblings are notable women like Elizabeth Johnson and the acclaimed writer, Mary Palmer, who wrote Devonshire Dialogue. Mary was seven years older than Joshua and was very fond of drawing, which certainly had an influence on him as a boy. She even helped finance Joshua’s pupilage, under Thomas Hudson, as well as his trip to Italy along with expenses, nine years later.
As a boy, influenced by Zachariah Mudge, Reynolds became very interested in Platonistic Philosophy, which became an essential reference to him throughout his life. Among his influences, evidenced by his commonplace book, are William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, Richard Steele, André Félibien and Leonardo da Vinci, but a heavy influence was An Essay on Theory of Painting, by Jonathan Richardson.
At age 17, he became Thomas Hudson’s apprentice, in London, for a period of four years. Hudson’s major influences was a collection of drawings by Old Masters, which Reynolds had to copy and study. Reynolds left Hudson in the summer of 1743, moving to Plymouth Dock, now the city of Davenport, working as a portrait painter for a brief time, returning to London by the end of 1744. Reynolds was invited to join the HMS Centurion ship, under the command of Commodore Augustus Keppel. After visiting Algiers, Cadiz, and Lisbon, he left the ship in Minorca and from there to Livorno and then Rome, where he stayed for two years, studying the Old Masters.
Leaving Rome, Reynolds began making his way back to London, passing through Venice, Bologna, Florence, and Paris. He had Giuseppe Marchi as his assistant, who accompanied him for most of this journey, and would be his assistant till the end of his life. Upon his arrival back to England in 1752, he established himself in London. Reynolds was very prolific and achieved recognition rapidly. As a result of his fame as a portrait painter, Joshua Reynolds often enjoyed the circles of the wealthy and distinguished men and women of the time. Reynolds was highly intellectual and nurtured many friendships among the erudite English elite. Reynolds was one of the founders of The Club or Literary Club, along with Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke, the distinguished statesman and philosopher.
Reynolds became a highly distinguished and essential member of the English art society. He was one of the first members of the Royal Society of Arts, as well as one of the founders of the Society of Artists of Great Britain. In 1768, Reynolds became the first Royal Academy of Arts President, the next years he was knighted by King George III, becoming the second artist to receive such an honor. Reynolds retired from painting after losing the sight of his left eye. He became severely ill on New Years Day of 1792. Sir Joshua Reynolds passed away in his house on 23 February 1792.